Transit is Fun
Who would have thought. Transit has the rep of being cost effective, practical, green and healthy. Now, thanks to the Olympics, it is time to add fun to the growing list of benefits of public transit. This is perhaps one of the least expected results from the Olympics. I did expect that the games would transform how we get around in Vancouver, but I thought the impact would be more incremental than obviously transformational.
I must admit that I enjoyed getting around the city fast on my bicycle, avoiding the line-ups and crowds. Some drivers also figured out that driving was quicker than expected because pretty much everyone was packed onto rails, buses and boats. However, it slowly dawned on me, that sharing the ride with hundreds of thousands of strangers was becoming a great part of the Olympic experience. Line-up became temporary communities. People broke out into spontaneous choruses of Oh Canada on SkyTrain cars. Transit not only facilitated the party by moving millions of people around, it became part of the party. Getting around by a car or on a bike, while quick, was not so fun anymore. Perhaps this is why many more people than expected were using transit.
Clearly, the success of the Canada Line became a big part of the buzz. Contrast this with Sea to Sky Highway. While it is dutifully mentioned as a legacy of the games, people's experience on the highway was not part of the buzz to say the least. The only comment I saw was how, in spite of the great scenery, people seemed to be likely to sleep through the ride. In fact, Alberta scored big by chartering the train to Whistler. Seems like the VIPs that Alberta wanted face time with, preferred a relaxing train ride to Whistler over being chauffeured up. So rail seems to offer a great experience for everyone. Cost to BC taxpayers of upgrading the Highway - $8 billion. Cost of Alberta renting the train - $6 million. Alberta scores great business connections - Priceless.
In spite of the trillions of dollars being spent on marketing individual transportation, as very social beings, it is clear that we like to be around lots of other people while we get around, especially if everyone is having a great time. Now, it helps that during the Olympics, people were more likely to be traveling with friends and family than during the daily commute. The take away, perhaps, is to focus much more effort on marketing transit for social and entertainment trips in the evenings and weekends, when there is plenty of capacity.
The other takeaway is, that in spite of the marketing hype, driving in the city is just not that much fun anymore. It is becoming a more and more miserable experience. Congestion on roads is no fun. Congestion in trains and transit stations is fun. Congestion on roads creates angry, isolated people. Congestion in trains and transit stations can lead to happy people talking to former strangers.